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Wiltshire Community History

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St Nicholas Church of England Primary School, Porton

St Nicholas Church of England Primary School, Porton Date Photo Taken 2011
Uploaded 07/01/2015 09:15:09
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Map Latitude 51.13044277092449 : Longitude -1.7262589931488037
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Idmiston C. of E. Aided Primary School was renamed in the early years of the 21st century to reflect the fact that the new school, opened in 1972, was in Porton and not Idmiston where the earlier school had been sited close to Idmiston church. The new name is taken from the dedication of the church at Porton. In 2014/15 there was a head teacher, 6 teachers, and 8 teaching assistants teaching the full National Curriculum to five classes in key Stages 1 and 2. The following is the earlier history of the school from its origins as Idmiston Church School.

By his will of 1711 John Andrews left £2 a year for the instruction in reading for as many poor children of the poor inhabitants of the parishes of Idmiston and Porton as the money would pay for. In 1783 there were two schools, presumably one in Idmiston and one in Porton, and we know that reading was taught in one, and reading and writing in the other, but we don't know which school taught which subjects. The catechism was taught in both and fees were charged. In 1818 the children of Idmiston were attending Porton School which could indicate that no suitable building or schoolmaster was available in Idmiston at that time. A new schoolhouse was near by the church in 1831-3 and by 1846 there were about 80 children at Sunday and day schools. All expenses were met by the endowment and voluntary contributions, and the schoolmaster was paid £10 a year.

In the inspection of 1858 the schoolhouse is described as being of the old fashioned type, adjoining the churchyard. The schoolroom measured 25 feet by 12 feet and there was no teacher's house. About 40 children attended the school, including some from Boscombe and Allington. In 1859 a local widow provided a gift of £200 for new premises. A new school was built in 1869 providing a schoolroom of 20 feet 10 inches by 18 feet, and a classroom, used for the infants, of 15 feet 4 inches by 18 feet, after the enlargement of 1874. The ceiling height of each was 11 feet 11 inches. This would have provided a light and airy school, a big change from the earlier one. The land was given by William Beach, owner of Idmiston Manor. After 1874 there was accommodation for 92 children at the school. All these changes took place while Miss Sarah Mitchell was schoolmistress from c.1859 to c.1875.

Unfortunately no logbooks from the Victorian period survive in the public domain but we know in general terms what school life would have entailed. By 1880 children were educated up to the age of ten, although they could stay longer. The learning age was raised to eleven in 1893, when children normally started as infants, aged four or five. School fees, one penny or twopence a week, had been removed in 1891. The school day was likely to have been from 9.00 to 12.00 noon and from 2.00pm to 4.00pm. Children either brought their lunch and ate it in the schoolroom or went home to eat. The teacher was assisted by paid monitors in their mid teens or by a pupil teacher, who was training to become a certified teacher.

Lessons were the elementary ones of reading, writing and arithmetic with scripture; some lessons in the latter subject were often taken by the vicar. The girls learned sewing and all had singing and recitation. Some geography and history would have been taught. School holidays were about a week or 10 days at Christmas and Easter, a week at Whitsun and five weeks Harvest Holiday in the summer. Full day and half day holidays were given for various reasons such as church or chapel teas or Sunday school outings, Royal and national occasions and the afternoon after the H.M.I. examinations. Unauthorised absences included seasonal work on the farm and in the garden for the older children and visits to local fairs, military events and other local happenings.

Although the children were divided into standards, they were all, apart from the infants, taught in the schoolroom with the teacher working at four to six different levels with groups of pupils of various ages. Throughout the second half of the 19th century the average school attendance was around 50 to 55 children. In 1889, when Miss Bertha Miller was schoolmistress it was 53. This had risen to 60 in 1907 when the school was taken over by Wiltshire County Council.

School logbooks do exist from 1921 and give us a flavour of the school in the 1920s. There was a schoolyard, measuring 10 yards by 8 yards and grass plot of 53 feet by 38 feet. A fruit patch was 410 square feet in area and the vegetable patch was 1,220 square feet. Older children would have been involved in producing fruit and vegetables from these gardens. The school was heated by coal burning stoves, which consumed four tons of coal a year. The school cellar held about three and half tons. The children were still learning the elementary subjects but were also having a much broader range of lessons. There were craft activities, drawing, natural history and extra lessons on history and geography. Before the 1922 General Election the children had lessons on the growth of Parliament and held their own elections. The boys played football while the girls had country dancing and all took part in physical exercises. Boxes of library books were exchanged between local schools.

Holidays were now two weeks at Christmas and Easter, one week at Whitsun and five weeks summer holidays. Full and half day holidays were given for Porton chapel fete, the church choir outing and for Salisbury October Fair. The school was closed for the Church Sunday School children's tea, which took place in the schoolroom, and also when the school was needed for a polling station. In 1922 a holiday was given for Princess Mary's wedding and one on 27th April 1923 by the wish of King George V for all schools. By this time there were regular inspections of the children by a school nurse and, apart from the usual childhood illnesses, whooping cough, jaundice and ringworm as noted.

School leaving age had been raised to 14 in 1918 and so all ages from 5 to 14 were being taught at the school. For further information see under Idmiston C. of E. Aided Primary School.

The school remained in its original building and numbers at the school were as low as 32 in 1955. Extensive house building in the 1960s meant that a new larger school was necessary to serve the villages on Idmiston and Porton. The new school opened in Porton in 1972 with five classrooms, a well equipped hall and a kitchen. The was also a hard play area and a very large playing field. In 1994 there were 85 pupils and 3.6 full time equivalent teaching posts. Apart from Idmiston pupils came from Porton, Porton Down, Boscombe and Allington, transported by the school bus. The number of pupils at the school had dropped to 70 in 1999 but by 2004 had risen to 2004.

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